Jose Manuel Feliciano has always been one to believe that nothing is beyond the reach of determined minds, regardless of race or social condition.
The son of a poor Pentecostal minister, Feliciano lived during his childhood years in a converted garage in a small town in Puerto Rico.
But his humble background, he proudly points out, did not prevent Feliciano, 39, from getting two college degrees and fulfilling his lifelong dream of becoming a public servant.
These days Feliciano is facing the biggest challenge of his life. As coordinator of Glendale's newly revamped affirmative action program, his job is to persuade other minorities that they can also succeed.
It is by no means an easy task, given Glendale's less than exemplary efforts to recruit minorities and its recent history of racial incidents. In the past four years, Glendale has lost a major discrimination lawsuit filed by a Latino police officer; been home to a white supremacist group; attracted a rally by another white supremacist group that ended in a near riot, and seen homes, cars, a Jewish temple and a school smeared with racist graffiti.
None of which is surprising to Feliciano, he is quick to point out. After all, the city is going through an at-times painful transition from what was once a white, conservative community to an ethnically diverse California melting pot.
"It's a sad commentary to make," Feliciano said in his small, cluttered City Hall office. "But it's going to get worse before it gets better. As immigrants continue to come, I predict more incidents of racial tension in the San Fernando Valley, including Glendale."
To ease such tensions, the city has launched a major offensive to integrate the municipal work force. Critics say that Feliciano's efforts are in the wrong direction and that the city is not doing enough to make up for the damage created by years of neglect.
But Feliciano will have none of it. Just watch me, he seems to say, his words and gestures denoting confidence about the job he began in November.
Feliciano arrived to Glendale in 1977 as a personnel trainee and quietly rose through the ranks. Ten years and five promotions later, he became the city's personnel services administrator.
A devoted family man and proud father of two, along the way Feliciano became a real estate investor and prospered. "Let me tell you," he grinned. "I've made a lot more money in real estate than I have in this job this year."
Affirmative action coordinator since 1981, Feliciano acknowledges that he and the city did not begin recruiting minorities aggressively until virtually forced to in 1986. That year, Carlos Jauregui, a Latino police officer, successfully sued his department for discriminatory promotional practices.
What was once a marginal occupation that took up "about 20%" of his office time has now become Feliciano's main responsibility--affirmative action duties account for "more than 60%" of Feliciano's workload.
"I see an emphatic, positive change on the commitment of public officials since around 1986 toward welcoming a more integrated work force," Feliciano explained.
As a result, in two years the percentage of minorities in the work force jumped from 24.4% in 1986 to 29.2% of the city's 1,419 employees in 1988. It had taken the city 11 years before that to raise its minority representation from only 10%.
Since then, city officials also began hiring consultants, commissioning studies, sponsoring ethnic festivals and establishing seminars and workshops to increase awareness of cultural, gender and age differences among city employees.
Starting last month, all new employees are given a two-hour crash course conducted by Feliciano on cultural diversity. Posters preaching tolerance and praising diversity ordered by Feliciano cover the employee orientation room.
At a recent orientation class, Feliciano addressed a group of seven employees, of whom five were minorities. He said the mix is typical of the kind of employees the city is hiring.
Recruitment Stepped Up
The city has also stepped up its recruitment efforts. In February, the city contracted the Los Angeles-based consulting firm of Glenda Madrid and Associates to establish specific minority hiring goals based on "relevant market" analysis--a study of the ethnic makeup of the different labor pools the city draws on to fill its positions.
Also, last month the Glendale City Council allocated $142,000 to hire a minority recruiter and a clerk and to pay for advertisements to attract minorities. Feliciano wasted no time in putting the money to use--last week Sandra Houlemard became the city's first full-time minority recruiter.
Most of the changes stem from an independent study of the Glendale police hiring and promotional practices ordered by U.S. District Judge Dickran Tevrizian in his ruling on the Jauregui case.